Part two of the Lev Parnas interview. TRANSCRIPT: 1/16/20, The Rachel Maddow Show.
DAVID JOLLY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I know we`re looking at Collins and
Gardner and Alexander, a others, Chris, but there are three names that I
think we should also put a spotlight on. One is Richard Burr, who is the
Senate Intelligence chairman who has work across the aisle with his
Democratic counterpart who stayed silent, but frankly should ask for
witnesses as well. Ben Sasse of Nebraska who likes to say he puts the
Constitution before party and Mike Lee who says he puts the Constitution
before party. We all watch Mike Lee melt down because the Trump
administration was not giving him information on Iran and the death of
Soleimani, he should care as much about what Trump did in Ukraine as he did
in Iran. Mike Lee should step up to this moment.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: All right. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David Jolly,
thank you both so much.
That is “ALL IN” for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.
HAYES: You bet.
MADDOW: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Tonight, we will present part two of my interview with Lev Parnas.
Now, as I said before the first part of the interview last night, and I
want to reiterate it now, Mr. Parnas is under federal indictment. He was
one of four defendants charged in early October with multiple felonies
related to an alleged scheme to funnel foreign and otherwise illegal
donations to various Republican candidates and campaigns, including more
than $300,000 in an allegedly illegal donation to the main super PAC
supporting the president`s reelection.
Mr. Parnas is under indictment. He says he would like to cooperate with the
impeachment investigators. He says he would also like to cooperate with the
federal prosecutors who have charged him in the Southern District of New
York. But he`s right now out on bond awaiting trial.
And I will just mention at the outset that I am cognizant of the fact that
we are presenting the second part of this interview tonight rather than
just diving right in to some of the other momentous and historic news of
today, including the start today of the Senate trial of President Trump.
Today marks only the third time in U.S. history that an American president
has faced an impeachment trial in the Senate.
And it was a solemn beginning today. The administering of the oath to the
chief justice of the Supreme Court, the administering of the oath to all
U.S. senators, all of the senators individually signing their names to the
oath, one by one, in alphabetical order.
It`s a solemn thing. It`s a sobering thing. This is a big deal. And it`s
worth, you know, the massive headlines that it`s getting all over the
country. It is absolutely worth marking this day in history.
It is also worth noting that the nonpartisan Government Accountability
Office today issued a ruling that it was illegal for President Trump to
withhold aid to Ukraine as part of this scheme, that what he did there was
against the law, for that to be arriving today, that ruling from the
Government Accountability Office on the day that the Senate impeachment
trial starts – I mean, this is all a big deal.
But it`s also becoming clear that what happens next in the impeachment of
President Trump in this Senate trial may depend in part on the additional
evidence and witnesses who are still coming forward as the Ukraine scheme
is coming more fully to light, and so – onward, here`s part two.
All right. One of the main questions, a lot of different people have asked,
I myself have asked, and have wondered, main question asked about Mr.
Parnas` decision to give this first public interview is why he would speak
out publicly while he`s out on bond awaiting trial, right? That is atypical
behavior to say the least for a federal criminal defendant, particularly
one who has a sentient lawyer.
I mean, the common wisdom is that public remarks and remarks to the media
could really only disadvantage a defendant in his or her dealings with
federal prosecutors, right? If you speak out publicly, if you speak to the
media, it`s going to hurt your criminal case. That is the common wisdom for
all federal defendants in all kinds of criminal trials.
So why is Mr. Parnas doing it?
Well, in this case, Mr. Parnas says that he has a significant fear of the
Justice Department. And specifically he has a significant fear of Attorney
General William Barr. For him, that is not reason to be quiet. That is part
of the reason why he`s making his case now to the public.
My understanding from spending a long time Mr. Parnas doing this interview
is that he believes he`s safer putting this stuff out in the public sphere
than he is keeping his mouth shut while the Justice Department knows what
he was involved in and they know what he knows and they have his fate in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEV PARNAS, INDICTED GIULIANI ASSOCIATE: My only objective is to get the
truth out because I never thought I was doing anything wrong. I still, you
know, I regret certain things that I did, because, like, you know, hurting
the ambassador, you know?
PARNAS: Because that was not something, but it was part of – it`s like,
when you`re in a war, you think like casualties and stuff like that. It`s
bad to say, but it was – and I keep saying it was like, you know, being in
a cult. I mean, and – and when they say organized crime, I don`t think
Trump is like organized – I think he`s like a cult leader.
And right now, the scary part, and that`s what I keep mentioning and people
don`t understand is, there`s a lot of Republicans that would go against
him. The only reason – if you`ll take a look, and you know very well
because you have been following, the difference between why Trump is so
powerful now, and he wasn`t as powerful in `16 and `17 –
PARNAS: – he became that powerful when he got William Barr.
PARNAS: People are scared. Am I scared? Yes, and because I think I`m more
scared of our own Justice Department than of these criminals right now,
because, you know, the scariest part is getting locked in some room and
being treated as an animal when you did nothing wrong and – or when you`re
not, you know, and that`s the tool they`re using.
I mean, just – because they`re trying (ph) to scare me into not talking
and with God`s help, and with my lawyer next to me that I know will go bat
for me no matter what, with the truth –
PARNAS: – and I`m taking a chance.
My wife is scared. My kids are nervous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When he says, “They`re trying to scare into not talking,” Mr.
Parnas is referencing something specific actually that I asked him about in
more detail in a different part of the interview that I`m going to show you
in just a moment.
But what Mr. Parnas describes there as a sort of – what he says is a
cultish environment, him saying getting out of that cultish environment
around the president now makes him regret some of his actions, that thing
that he`s saying about it being like a cult that he regrets some of his
behavior there, that applies as well to the central claim at the heart of
the impeachment scandal, which was this concerted effort that Mr. Parnas
was involved in to accuse former Vice President Joe Biden of wrongdoing and
to get Ukraine to announce investigations of Vice President Biden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: In terms of the information, the allegations against Vice President
Biden, Mr. Shokin makes allegations against Mr. Biden. Mr. Lutsenko also
makes allegations against Mr. Biden. Do you believe that those allegations
PARNAS: When we were dealing with it, when I was in the middle of the thick
of things, I think I was kind of – I keep saying it`s a cultish
environment being around President Trump because I mean, like, I`ve been in
D.C. for two years, I never left the Trump Hotel type of situation.
So, I truly believe seeing different information that was handed to us at
that time that Joe Biden was doing something illegal, not so much Hunter
Biden but more Joe Biden.
But after analyzing all the evidence and sitting back and really – what`s
it called – understanding what`s going on, I don`t think – I don`t think
Vice President Biden did anything wrong. I think he was protecting our
country and getting rid of probably a crooked attorney general.
And people used this to their advantage. A lot of rich people in Ukraine
have their own agenda. And they use us here for their own political stuff.
So I think this is – was a big one.
MADDOW: In terms of the material that was handed over to intelligence, on
March 22nd, Mr. Lutsenko texts you in Russian, there`s a translation that`s
provided by the committee.
It says: It`s just that if you don`t make a decision about madam, you are
bringing into question all my allegations including about B.
So when he says “madam” is he talking about –
PARNAS: Ambassador Yovanovitch.
MADDOW: – Ambassador Yovanovitch?
MADDOW: And when he says, all my allegations including about B –
MADDOW: – is that about Burisma and Biden?
MADDOW: OK. Do you know if it`s Burisma or Biden? I guess –
PARNAS: It was always Biden. Burisma, it was just – I mean, nobody cares
about Burisma or Zlochevsky. It was – the concern was Biden, Hunter Biden.
MADDOW: In that text message to you, is Mr. Lutsenko saying in effect,
listen, if you want me to make these Biden allegations, you`re going to
have to get rid of this ambassador?
MADDOW: Was he threatening if you didn`t get rid of the ambassador, he
might withdraw his Biden allegation?
PARNAS: He actually did. He withdrew it several times.
MADDOW: He wanted Ambassador Yovanovitch ousted for his own career reasons.
He had clashed with her, in her anti-corruption efforts that had butted up
against him and his efforts.
PARNAS: Absolutely, yes.
MADDOW: Lutsenko and Shokin both had an interest in getting rid of U.S.
Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
PARNAS: Yes, and it`s funny because they both don`t like each other.
MADDOW: Shokin and Lutsenko don`t like each other.
PARNAS: Shokin hates Lutsenko, and even though Lutsenko used to be his
underling. But they consider – listen, it`s a different environment over
there. And it`s – unless you live it, unless you do business there, unless
you visit there and understand it, bribery and – it`s just a way of life.
I mean, regular people at the store do it. They`ll bribe the butcher to get
a better piece of meat and it`s normal. You know, or get better seats at a
So, it`s like a way of life over there. So, the way the structure is set
up, that`s why everybody`s hoping that Zelensky changes it, but I don`t
know how much he can change with one series (ph) – like, it`s already
This is where once you become – in America, it`s like you become a
politician to serve your country not to make money, because you can`t make
money while you`re – in Ukraine, it`s the opposite. You – some of these
people pay millions of dollars to get a seat as a politician because once -
MADDOW: Because they can use it to make so much more money.
PARNAS: Right. So, once they get there. So, it`s all about the money and
it`s all about power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Lev Parnas, a key fixer and figure in the effort to fit up Vice
President Joe Biden with accusations of wrongdoing in Ukraine, to force the
Ukrainian government to announce investigations into Mr. Biden, to force
out the U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch who was in the way of that
Mr. Parnas now apologizing to that U.S. ambassador, Ambassador Yovanovitch.
We aired that last night.
And as I just showed you, Mr. Parnas also says he now does not believe that
Vice President Biden did anything wrong in Ukraine. And that Vice President
Biden`s actions there which Mr. Parnas helped try to turn into a scandal,
in his words now, he says “Mr. Biden`s actions were taken to protect our
country and get rid of a crooked attorney general.”
By confirming the nature of his own communications with that official he
refers to as a crooked attorney general, Mr. Parnas also makes clear that
the removal of Ambassador Yovanovitch was a demand from the key accusers
that he and Mr. Giuliani and the president and others have been using to
make this false case against Biden.
The accusers, including both Lutsenko and Shokin wanted Yovanovitch gone.
Lutsenko explicitly demanded to Parnas that the ambassador be removed or
his allegations against Biden might be at risk. Shokin and Lutsenko wanted
Ambassador Yovanovitch removed in Lev Parnas` telling because they were
corrupt and she was a force against corruption in Ukraine and so they
wanted her out of their way, too.
Think about the collateral damage that was caused not only in our own
country but around the world and in Ukraine by this scheme to aid the
president`s re-election effort. That gives you a pretty clear sense of what
that might be in Ukraine when it comes to anti-corruption.
President Trump`s alleged personal role in trying to remove Ambassador
Yovanovitch before she was ultimately recalled, we`re going to have more on
that coming up this hour as well.
But before we get to that, there`s one other piece of this I want to
foreground here that isn`t specifically about President Trump. It`s about
another senior member of the Trump administration who Lev Parnas says
stepped in to play a role in the Ukraine scheme at a very key moment. The
new president of Ukraine elected on this anti-corruption platform, right,
engaged in an ongoing war with Russia, he`s inaugurated in May. As the new
leader of Ukraine, he somewhat desperately needs a show of support, a
strong show of support from the United States government, that`s key to the
U.S. – to the Ukraine in terms of its fight with Russia among other
On the eve of Zelensky`s inauguration, Mr. Parnas told me in the portion of
the interview we played yesterday that he was directed by Rudy Giuliani who
had spoken to President Trump about it, he was directed to really turn up
the pressure on Ukraine. To demand to the Ukrainian government that unless
they announced a Biden investigation, the Ukrainian government would lose
not only all U.S. military aid, they would lose all the U.S. aid and Vice
President Pence would not come to the inauguration of the new president.
Vice President Pence`s plans to attend the inauguration at that point were
in full swing. The threat was that that would be canceled, that Pence
wouldn`t come unless they met the Biden investigation demand. We played
this portion of the interview last night, but here`s just a little squib
from it to refresh your memory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PARNAS: In the conversation, I told him that if he doesn`t – the
announcement was the key at that time because of the inauguration, that
Pence would not show up, nobody would show up to his inauguration.
MADDOW: Unless he announced an investigation into Joe Biden, no U.S.
officials, particularly Vice President Mike Pence, would not come to the
PARNAS: Particularly Vice President Mike Pence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, that conversation as Mr. Parnas describes it, he says that was
in May of last year, May 12th specifically, a meeting he says with a top
aide to the incoming president-elect in Ukraine, Mr. Zelensky`s top
adviser. He says that that demand that he made that they needed to announce
the Biden investigation was rebuffed. The Ukrainians did not agree to
announce a Biden investigation despite the threat Mr. Parnas was making
there on behalf of the White House.
And when they rebuffed his demand and they did not provide that
announcement of the investigation, in fact, the following day, the White
House made good on their threat and Vice President Mike Pence did cancel
his planned trip to the Zelensky inauguration.
That`s as far as we got in the interview with Mr. Parnas as of last night,
but the way it went down thereafter is that after Vice President Pence
canceled his trip to the Zelensky inauguration, within a few days the U.S.
government decided they would send another senior official in his place.
So, let`s pick up the story there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PARNAS: That`s when we flew to Paris, and in Paris, we met Rudy before –
and when we were in Paris with Rudy, basically, that`s when I found out
that Perry was going to the – they decided to send Perry there instead.
MADDOW: Energy Secretary Rick Perry would be going.
MADDOW: Did you – you learned that from Mr. Giuliani?
MADDOW: Was Mr. Perry, to your knowledge, aware of what you and Mr.
Giuliani were trying to do in Ukraine of terms of getting these
PARNAS: I don`t know to what extent he was told about me. I don`t know what
he was told. Definitely he knew about Rudy because he was told – he called
Rudy on his way there to ask him what to discuss and Rudy told him that to
make sure to give him the message.
MADDOW: Mr. Giuliani told Secretary Perry what you need to convey to the
Ukrainian government they need to announce an investigation into Joe Biden.
MADDOW: Do you know if part of the message that Mr. Giuliani conveyed to
Secretary Perry was also that Ukraine would lose their military aid, they`d
lose their U.S. aid, if they didn`t announce those investigations?
PARNAS: I don`t recall them having a specific conversation about that.
PARNAS: It was more of just telling him what he needs to do to announce it.
I don`t know what other conversation they could have had prior or after.
PARNAS: But I know that there was another conversation that Perry called
after the inauguration telling him that he spoke to Zelensky and Zelensky`s
going to do it.
MADDOW: Perry says, I spoke with Zelensky and I got him to agree.
MADDOW: I got him to agree to announce the investigation.
PARNAS: Yes, and they did an announcement but they didn`t announce that.
See, this was the whole key. They would kind of say every time somebody
would meet Zelensky, they would, like, agree and then they would walk it
So they announced something about corruption that he`s going to get
corruption but Giuliani blew his lid on that saying that`s not what we
discussed. That it wasn`t supposed to be a corruption announcement. It has
to be about Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and Burisma.
MADDOW: He said the name, Biden, needs to be spoken, was his insistence?
PARNAS: Always, always.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: They did not want them to announce corruption investigations or
anti-corruption efforts. That was not it. It had to be about Biden. They
had to say Biden.
Lev Parnas alleging that former Energy Secretary Rick Perry who we know
from impeachment hearing testimony was tasked by the White House as one of
three officials along with Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland who were taking
the lead for the Trump White House on Ukraine policy. This was the three
According to Lev Parnas, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry was directed by
Rudy Giuliani to deliver the message to the Ukrainian government that they
needed to announce investigations into Joe Biden. He says, Mr. Parnas says,
that Mr. Perry phoned Mr. Giuliani, contacted Mr. Giuliani, and said that
he had been in touch with the Ukrainian president, that he had conveyed the
message, and that, in fact, the Ukrainian government had agreed to make
Now, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has denied playing any role in this
scheme, but he did crash out of the Trump cabinet just as this scandal
started to come to the surface. It was October 16th when “The Wall Street
Journal” reported that, in fact, Secretary Perry did call Rudy Giuliani to
talk about Ukraine. He did so at the direction of President Trump.
The following day, October 17th, Rick Perry tendered his resignation to the
president as energy secretary. The day after that, October 18th, Secretary
Perry announced that he would not comply with a subpoena in the impeachment
Whether he would comply now with a subpoena to testify to the Senate trial
of the president, that remains to be seen. We`ll be right back with more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PARNAS: I know that there was another conversation that Perry called after
the inauguration, telling him that he spoke to Zelensky and Zelensky`s
going to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Did you ever have any communications with the counsel to the
president, Jay Sekulow, during the time that you were involved in all this?
PARNAS: Several conversations. One, in particular, which I would have to
refresh my memory by looking at my text messages with him, but had to do
with – I think it was Viktor Shokin`s visa, or something to do with
Ukraine. And Rudy was busy at the time and basically told me that Jay was
aware of everything, that he brought him up to speed, that I could call him
and he was on top of it.
MADDOW: Was – by that did he mean that Mr. Sekulow was part of this effort
to try to get Ukraine to announce investigations?
PARNAS: Oh, absolutely. One of the things I think was the best quote ever
was when Mr. Sondland said everybody`s in the loop and –
MADDOW: You believe that everybody was in the loop?
PARNAS: I don`t believe. I know.
PARNAS: I know they were in the loop. I was witness of conversations and –
you know, between them. And everybody was in the loop.
Everybody didn`t agree with the loop. I mean, Jay Sekulow didn`t agree with
what Rudy was doing, but knew what he was doing.
MADDOW: How do you know that he didn`t agree with it?
PARNAS: Because I heard them talk about it.
MADDOW: And was his objection?
PARNAS: He didn`t want to be involved in the Ukraine stuff. He – I don`t
know what his – you`d have to ask him, what his (INAUDIBLE). My feeling
from the conversations, and watching the way Jay approached that situation
was he just didn`t want to be a part of it, and wanted to stay away from
MADDOW: You mentioned that you were trying to get Mr. Shokin a visa to come
to the United States.
MADDOW: Why were you trying to do that?
PARNAS: Well, after the conversation Mr. Shokin had with Mr. Giuliani that
we had on Skype, they had discussed on the range they were going to have
Mr. Shokin come here, and Mr. Giuliani wanted to debrief him here in front
of Mr. Lindsey Graham, and – certain other people like the attorney
MADDOW: Because Mr. Shokin was going to say what?
PARNAS: He was basically going to testify and say that Joe Biden basically
forced him out because he was going to investigate Hunter Biden and
MADDOW: Was the president, himself, ever involved in the effort to get this
visa from Mr. Shokin? In the text messages that were released, Mr. Giuliani
appears to tell you he`s gong to get number one involved in this effort to
get Mr. Shokin into the U.S.
MADDOW: Was that a reference to the president?
MADDOW: Did the president ever work on it?
PARNAS: Of course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Lev Parnas stating that President Trump, himself, was aware of and
involved in efforts to try to bring at least one Biden accuser from Ukraine
to the United States to, among other things, brief Senator Lindsey Graham
and Attorney General William Barr.
We believe that accuser, former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin, had his
visa to visit the United States blocked by the U.S. embassy in Kiev because
it was the official U.S. government view of him that he was way too corrupt
as a public official to be allowed a U.S. visa.
But it`s also noteworthy that Mr. Parnas says that he believes that counsel
to the president, Jay Sekulow, was aware of everything that was going on in
this Ukraine scheme but that he disapproved of it. Mr. Parnas` words, he
said Mr. Sekulow wanted to stay away from all this stuff involving Ukraine.
I should note at this point that Mr. Sekulow is expected to be one of the
main defense counsels for President Trump in his impeachment trial which
convened today in the senate. I should also note that Mr. Parnas says Mr.
Sekulow was, however much he disapproved of the whole Ukraine scheme, he
says Mr. Sekulow was directly involved in advising him not to cooperate
with the investigation into the Ukraine scheme and with signing him up with
some other lawyers who Lev ultimately fired but who also told him not to
cooperate with the investigation into Ukraine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: How did you end up with Mr. Downing and Mr. Dowd representing you
when the impeachment inquiry had contacted you for testimony?
PARNAS: That`s a good question, Rachel.
First of all, what happened was we were in Vienna when we got notified that
we had a congressional, what`s it called –
PARNAS: And I was there with Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova working on
the Dmytro Firtash case. And first people came to was them, and I said,
what do I do? They said, call Rudy.
I called Rudy, what do we do? Rudy`s first response was, I don`t worry
about it, forget it. I was like, what you mean don`t worry about it? You`re
an attorney. Please help me get an attorney. Rudy came back and said, oh, I
have a great, John Dowd.
And we were like, OK. We got excited. I didn`t know who John Dowd was. But
I knew he was the president`s attorney. It was a very, like, you know,
exciting situation even though it was, you know, all this going on. It`s
still, you know, like in the Looney Tunes.
But I would I called John Dowd, introduced myself like Rudy connected us
and at first everything was good. Then, like, 15 minutes later I get a call
from him saying, we have a problem that I`m not going to probably be able
to represent you.
I said, what happened? He goes, I`ve been speaking with Jay Sekulow, and,
you know, because I was the president`s attorney, I`m still kind of doing
work for the president, there`s a conflict of interest unless he wants to
waive it. I don`t think the president is going to waive that conflict.
Because at that point, John Dowd didn`t know who I was also. He didn`t
think I had any relationship with the president. And I responded to him, I
said I think he will. I said –
MADDOW: You think the president will waive the conflict.
MADDOW: And let Dowd represent you.
PARNAS: Absolutely. I said, give Rudy a call, I`m sure we can work this
out, I said because this is very important.
About 15, 20 minutes later I got called back from John Dowd. He said,
you`re one lucky guy, I just got called from Jay Sekulow, I got the
permission and I`m getting it in writing shortly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You are one lucky guy. I just want to interrupt here for a moment
to show you that, in fact, what Mr. Parnas is talking about here is
corroborated by some of the documentation that he has handed over to the
House Intelligence Committee. This letter from Jay Sekulow saying that he,
Jay Sekulow, got President Trump`s expressed permission for Lev Parnas to
be represented legally by John Dowd. That was, in fact, a letter that Mr.
Parnas turned over to the impeachment investigators and now has been
conveyed to the Senate.
So, Jay Sekulow talked to the president about you, Lev Parnas, and I have
received his permission to let you use John Dowd as your lawyer. Mr. Parnas
thinks he is very lucky. This is great. It shows that the president is
willing to help him out. It also shows he`s getting the president lawyer,
which is wonderful.
Mr. Parnas went on to say in the interview that he was advised by his new
lawyer who he`s very excited about, John Dowd, in consultation with Jay
Sekulow at the White House and Rudy Giuliani, that he should not cooperate
with the investigation into Ukraine. the impeachment investigation that`s
brewing in congress.
He`s been asked by the impeachment investigators to give information. He
says he is advised by his new legal team in communication with the White
House, with the president`s counsel, Jay Sekulow, that he shouldn`t
cooperate even though he says he personally would have been happy to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You got a request from Congress to come – for you and Mr. Fruman
to come testify to the impeachment investigation.
MADDOW: You were inclined to say yes.
PARNAS: Absolutely, I had nothing to hide. We were not doing anything
MADDOW: Your lawyer, John Dowd, however, advised you not to cooperate and
said the president would give you cover for not cooperating?
PARNAS: It was a little more than that. I was brought into John Dowd`s
house and he got Jay Sekulow on the phone and also Rudy and Victoria, then
basically they came up with a situation that said that because I worked for
Rudy and because I worked for Victoria and because Rudy worked for the
president, we had three-way privilege and that basically Pat Cipollone was
going to be writing a letter to Congress telling them to – that nobody`s
cooperating, and that would protect us under the same order and he would
follow up with that.
Again, this was the president of the United States – so, I mean, I
thought, OK. I said if – here`s all the information I have. I did my duty.
I gave him whatever paperwork I had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Mr. Parnas says that he disagreed with this decision to not
cooperate with the congressional investigation into the Ukraine scheme. He
said he was inclined to hand over whatever he had, but he says the
president, himself, approved Mr. Parnas using this lawyer who the
president, himself had use himself, had used. Mr. Dowd. Mr. Sekulow and the
White House was part of the team giving him advice that he should not
cooperate. He figured it was probably fine. Since, I mean, all of this
appeared to be coming down to him from the president of the United States
and all of these people who worked with the president.
But then Lev Parnas got arrested and that`s when things went quite pear-
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Mr. Dowd was your attorney for a time and then you changed
PARNAS: I fired him in jail.
MADDOW: You fired him when you were in jail?
MADDOW: What happened there?
PARNAS: And Mr. Downing.
Basically, when we were arrested, obviously, I had nowhere else to call. I
didn`t know – we just retained Dowd and Downing. So I called Downing to
come there and I started seeing in the process of the bail stuff the way
things were going on that they were more concentrating on – I didn`t feel
that they were trying to get me out, and at that point, I had a meeting
with John Dowd and Downing inside the jail.
And John Dowd just instead of comforting me and, you know, trying to calm
me down, telling me, like, it`s going to be OK, like, don`t worry,
basically start talking to me like a drill sergeant and telling me, giving
me orders, like, you know, be a good boy, like, you know.
MADDOW: He said “be a good boy”?
PARNAS: No, I don`t – I don`t want to quote him exactly on what the words,
what he used in that because it was a while ago. I don`t remember exactly.
But it was – it was his condescending attitude toward basically, like, who
do you think you are telling the president or Giuliani or anybody to, like,
come out and because I – one of the things I said, I said, I can`t believe
nobody is coming out in our defense and saying we didn`t do anything wrong,
we`re good citizens, you know, we work.
And basically word for word, and then I said, if you don`t get out of here
right now, something bad is going to happen because I don`t want to see the
two of you.
And at that point, Downing hit the emergency button and the security took
me out and took them out.
MADDOW: This is a very heated confrontation. You told Downing and Dowd to
PARNAS: I threw them out.
MADDOW: Were they telling you to sacrifice yourself in order to protect the
PARNAS: That`s what I felt.
MADDOW: Is the implication of this story of the lawyers that you feel, that
people loyal to the president and close to the president were trying to
influence your defense and your case in a way that was against your
interests but in the president`s interests?
PARNAS: Absolutely. I think they tried to keep me quiet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Lev Parnas, again, should be noted is out on bond awaiting trial on
multiple felony counts for allegedly funneling foreign and otherwise
illegal donations to Republican candidates and campaigns including the
super PAC that is supporting President Trump`s re-election effort.
In terms of the lawyers he was talking about here, Kevin Downing was the
main defense lawyer for the president`s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort,
who is currently serving more than seven years in federal prison. John Dowd
was one of the president`s defense counsels on the Russia investigation.
Both Mr. Downing and Mr. Dowd have since been fired by Lev Parnas in the
situation that you just heard him describe there, that jailhouse
confrontation. As for Jay Sekulow, the gentleman on your right side of your
screen here – screen here, he will be representing President Trump as one
of his defense counsels in the U.S. Senate in the president`s impeachment
Speaking of the president, more ahead.
MADDOW: We`ve got one last piece of the Lev Parnas interview to bring you
tonight. And it is one that, I`ll tell you in advance, it raises more
questions than it answers. The person who can answer those questions is not
Lev Parnas, however, but rather Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or, perhaps,
other State Department officials who know about the actions of Secretary
Pompeo and the State Department at this time.
When you hear people gnash their teeth about the fact that the
administration hasn`t handed over any documents to the impeachment
investigation, that the State Department won`t hand over a single document
to explain its own role and its own behavior during the scandal, this is
why. This is an example of why.
OK. One of the mysteries that still lingers from the Ukraine scandal is
about that smear campaign that was carried out against the U.S. ambassador
to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and that smear campaign, of course, was
aimed at getting her removed from the embassy, removed from her post.
Ultimately, she was removed, of course. She was told to get on the next
plane out. She got a call at 1:00 in the morning saying your security is at
risk, get on the next plane out. That was in late April.
Her departure was announced by the State Department shortly thereafter in
terms that said that it was, you know, normal and long planned when it was
actually anything but.
But in addition to lying about the circumstances of her departure, one
question that has always nagged about the State Department and the role of
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is why the smear campaign was necessary.
After all, if Marie Yovanovitch was in the way of the president`s pressure
campaign to get the Ukrainian government to help him with his re-election
effort, or if the president was unhappy with her for any other reason, for
that matter, either made up or real – well, he`s the president. He could
just fire her. He could just have her recalled from her post. Why did they
have to go through this public humiliating drama?
Well, in my interview with Lev Parnas, Mr. Parnas told me that President
Trump tried to fire Ambassador Yovanovitch several times and it, for some
reason, didn`t work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PARNAS: The president kept firing her and couldn`t (ph) – and she wouldn`t
leave. So nobody could understand what was going on.
MADDOW: Public information, she was removed, at the time that she was
removed, she was back in the United States at the end of the April, you`re
saying that the president tried to fire before that.
PARNAS: He fired her probably at least, to my knowledge, at least four,
five times. He even had a breakdown and scream, “fire her” to Madeline
(ph), his assistant, the secretary, before he fired her. He said, Mr.
President, I can`t do that.
MADDOW: He was directing the State Department to remove her and the State
Department was refusing?
MADDOW: But the basis of your belief that the president had tried to remove
Ambassador Yovanovitch multiple times and it for some reason didn`t work is
because you talked to the president about that?
PARNAS: About firing her, I spoke to the president once about that, or
twice. Once or twice. Once directly at our dinner when he fired her
actually at the dinner which was the most surprising thing ever I –
MADDOW: Tell me – tell me more.
PARNAS: Basically, at that dinner, we had a conversation, there was, like,
six of us there, it was an intimate dinner.
MADDOW: At the White House?
PARNAS: It was – no, it was a Trump Hotel. It was a private – like area
there. Looks like a little White House.
MADDOW: And the president was there?
PARNAS: Oh, absolutely. The president was there, his son, Don Jr., was
there. I don`t know how the issue is – the conversation came up, but I do
remember me telling the president the ambassador was bad-mouthing him and
saying he was going to get impeached, something to that effect.
And at that time, he turned around to John DeStefano, who was his aide at
the time, and said, “fire her”. And we all – there was a silence in the
room. He responded to him, said Mr. President, we can`t do that right now
because Pompeo hasn`t been confirmed yet. That Pompeo is not confirmed yet
and we don`t have – this is when Tillerson was gone, but Pompeo was
confirmed, so they go, wait until (INAUDIBLE).
So several conversations he mentioned it again. I don`t know how many times
at that dinner, once or twice or three times. But he fired her several
MADDOW: He reiterated that she should be fired then he was ordering her to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Now, a couple things here. First we should say that Lev Parnas told
me in this interview that he no longer actually, himself, believes that
Marie Yovanovitch as ambassador actually was bad-mouthing President Trump
or saying he was going to be impeached.
He now says he recognizes that was part of the disinformation campaign. He
regrets participating in it even though he believed it at the time. He
apologized to the ambassador in my interview with him. We aired that last
night. He says he regrets believing those things about her and
participating in the effort to get her fired.
The other thing to note here, though, is the meeting that Mr. Parnas is
describing he says took place on April 30th, 2018, and from what he`s
describing about where the meeting happened and who was at that meeting, we
believe that there was a meeting of that type on April 30th, 2018, at the
location that Mr. Parnas is describing.
On April 30th, 2018, Mike Pompeo had, in fact, been Senate confirmed just a
few days before. Mike Pompeo, however, had not yet been sworn in officially
as secretary of state so, perhaps, that was the source of confusion saying
we can`t do it yet, Mr. Pompeo isn`t formally in place yet. We don`t know.
But aside from that detail, I think you would take from Mr. Parnas` account
there that there was, perhaps, an expectation in the White House, perhaps
an expectation around the president, that once Mike Pompeo was fully in
charge at the State Department, once Trump had his guy in there as
secretary of state, Ambassador Yovanovitch would be fired.
In the end, it would be another year before that actually happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PARNAS: That was not the only time he fired her because he fired her at
least four other occasions that Rudy Giuliani went to the White House, had
conversations with him and then came back and then informed me, Victoria,
and Joe about what transpired. He fired her when he gave an order to Mike
Pompeo once, which he didn`t do, Secretary Pompeo didn`t fire her.
Then Rudy came back and he told him, go speak to Pompeo. Rudy went to speak
to Pompeo. They got into it.
Then they had another meeting at the White House where he told Bolton to
fire her. Bolton didn`t want to fire her. Tell Pompeo to fire here.
Rudy got into it with all of them again. And at one point, he told
Madeleine (ph) to fire her.
So, I mean, that was becoming comical because I couldn`t understand, you`re
the president – that`s one of the things – when I say comical, it`s not
more comical, but at that point, it was more of affirmation to me that
there was people against the president of the United States if they`re not
listening to his orders.
So that`s where I think the smear campaign started coming about. I think it
was like a boost to them to help him if the media started, like, egging him
on, that there was really something there, then he would just tweet and
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: They couldn`t get it done through normal channels, even with the
president, himself, being involved in those somewhat normal channels, and
so they started the smear campaign to try to create media agitation against
Ambassador Yovanovitch and maybe that would make it possible for the
president to evade or elide direct channels and do it with the support of
the conservative media who would advance these claims?
I mean, this is fascinating, right? According to Lev Parnas, the smear
campaign against Marie Yovanovitch was not meant to convince president
Trump she was bad. He was already onboard with that. Happy to believe that.
The smear campaign against the ambassador was meant to help his efforts to
fire her. Now, maybe get him so riled up, he would fire her by tweet, make
it public that way instead of just yelling it out to random people at
random meetings and dinners.
But this narrative also presents us with a sort of mixed, complicated,
picture of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in this scandal. I mean, on the
one hand, Secretary Pompeo refused to support Ambassador Yovanovitch
publicly when she was being attacked as part of the smear campaign, and it
was his office that ultimately removed her from her post with no evidence
that he actually believed or that the State Department actually had any
substantial reason, any real reason, to get her out.
We also know that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in contact with Rudy
Giuliani who was running the whole Ukraine operation including the
Yovanovitch smear campaign, including when Lev Parnas, who was inseparable
from Rudy Giuliani, was exchanging alarming text messages with a Republican
congressional candidate who purported to have Ambassador Yovanovitch under
physical surveillance and appeared to be raising the prospect of some
physical harm or intimidation being carried out against her.
I should also mention that the material Lev Parnas turned over to the
Intelligence Committee includes in the latest batch released last night
these text messages involving Rudy Giuliani and Victoria Toensing, a Fox
News lawyer working with Giuliani and Parnas in their scheme to get
In these texts about three months before Yovanovitch was finally recalled,
Toensing asks Giuliani, “is there absolute commitment for her ,” her, all
caps, her, meaning Yovanovitch “to be gone this week?” Giuliani responds,
“Yes. Not sure how absolute. We`ll get a reading in the morning and call
Pompeo, misspelled Pompei, “Pompeo is now aware of it, talk to him on
The next month, the conservative journalist, John Solomon, wrote to Lev
Parnas and Victoria Toensing and her husband Joe DiGenova, saying that he,
John Solomon, needed State Department help on, quote, Hunter Biden
contacts. What`s what State Department help did John Solomon expect to get?
Why did he think Lev Parnas and friends could get it for him? Is that how
the State Department runs?
I mean, all of that points to Mike Pompeo`s State Department being an ally,
being sort of part of the team for President Trump and his associates on
the Ukraine scheme. But it`s unclear, I mean, you also have Lev Parnas
describing Mike Pompeo as ostensibly blocking the firing of Marie
Yovanovitch at several points.
As late as September of last year when national security adviser John
Bolton left the White House, just as the Ukraine scream was being exposed,
texts from Mr. Parnas suggested that Mike Pompeo was not in good standing
with this group. Parnas writing to a friend, quote, Bolton is out. Pompeo
But the mixed contradictory picture like that, I have a lot of questions
for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. I imagine, impeachment investigators
We reached out to the State Department for comment both last night and
tonight. We haven`t heard back. We`ll let you know if that changes.
But as the president`s trial on this scandal gets under way in the Senate,
a key question about the conduct of the trial is whether Secretary Pompeo
will be called under oath to answer questions about what really is his
very, very, murky role in all of this.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: The Government Accountability Office, the GAO, is the independent
and nonpartisan federal agency tasked with helping Congress with
investigations. In November, the GAO announced it would analyze whether the
Trump administration broke any laws when they decided to withhold $400
million in military aid to Ukraine as part of this effort to pressure
Ukraine into announcing investigations into Joe Biden.
Well, now, today on the same day that senators officially took their oaths
in the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, the GAO released its
decision and they found that, yes, the Trump administration did break the
law when they withheld that money. The finding says in part, quote,
faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute
his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law. OMB
withheld funds for a policy reason which is not permitted under the
Impoundment Control Act.
The withholding was not a programmatic delay. We, therefore, conclude that
OMB violated the law.
You may remember one of the impeachment witnesses, Mark Sandy, testified
that two officials at OMB resigned during this scandal in part because of
their concerns about whether holding up these funds to Ukraine was illegal.
It seems their concerns were justified. I`d love to hear from them.
It also means that the Republican talking point that no criminal laws were
broken in this impeachment scandal, that is well and truly dead. Or it
More ahead. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL C. STENGER, SENATE SERGEANT AT ARMS: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. All
persons are commanded to keep silent on pain of imprisonment while the
House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States
articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump, president of the United
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senate sergeant at arms today warning members of the Senate if they
break with decorum during the impeachment trial of the president, by
speaking, they could face imprisonment. The oaths and the rules and the
ceremonial opening of the impeachment trial were today. On Saturday, House
impeachment managers will have until 5:00 p.m. Eastern to file their trial
On Monday, we could see a further exchange of briefs basically responses
between the house and the president. On Tuesday, next week the trial will
start in earnest at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. You should clear your calendar now.
Call in sick ahead of time.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now it`s time for “The Last Word with Lawrence O`Donnell”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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Copyright 2020 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the